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Rice v. Mayor & City Council of Baltimore

United States District Court, D. Maryland

April 28, 2016

GERALD RICE, Plaintiff,
v.
MAYOR AND CITY COUNCIL OF BALTIMORE, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Richard D. Bennett United States District Judge

Plaintiff Gerald Rice (“Mr. Rice” or “Plaintiff”) brings this pro se action against Defendants Mayor and City Council of Baltimore[1] (“City”), the Baltimore Police Department (“BPD”), Officer Laurence A. Ben (“Officer Ben”), and Detective Theodore C. Anderson (“Officer Anderson”) (collectively, “Defendants”), alleging various violations of his constitutional rights and state law. Specifically, Mr. Rice claims that he was wrongfully arrested and detained after an armed robbery of a Family Dollar Store.

Presently pending are Defendants Theodore Anderson and Laurence Ben’s Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim, or in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 16); Defendant Mayor and City Council of Baltimore’s Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim (ECF No. 19); Defendant Baltimore Police Department’s Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim (ECF No. 22); and Plaintiff’s Motion of Opposition, for Dismissal of Defendants’ Motion for Removal, and for Dismissal of Complaint (ECF No. 25). The parties’ submissions have been reviewed and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2014). For the reasons that follow, Defendants Theodore Anderson and Laurence Ben’s Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim, or in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 16), construed as a Motion to Dismiss, is GRANTED; Defendant Mayor and City Council of Baltimore’s Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim (ECF No. 19) is GRANTED; Defendant Baltimore Police Department’s Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim (ECF No. 22) is GRANTED; and Plaintiff’s Motion of Opposition, for Dismissal of Defendants’ Motion for Removal, and for Dismissal of Complaint (ECF No. 25), construed as a Motion to Remand, is DENIED. As the United States Supreme Court clearly set forth in Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), Mr. Rice may not collaterally attack his existing criminal conviction by filing the subject civil rights action.

BACKGROUND

In a ruling on a motion to dismiss, this Court must accept the factual allegations in the plaintiff’s complaint as true and construe those facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs. See, e.g., Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 244 (4th Cir. 1999). Moreover, a pro se litigant’s complaint should not be dismissed unless it appears beyond doubt that the litigant can prove no set of facts in support of his claim that would entitle him to relief. Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978). Yet, a plaintiff’s status as pro se does not absolve him of the duty to plead adequately. See Stone v. Warfield, 184 F.R.D. 553, 555 (D. Md. 1999) (citing Anderson v. Univ. of Md. Sch. Of Law, 130 F.R.D. 616, 617 (D. Md. 1989), aff’d, 900 F.2d 249, 1990 WL 41120 (4th Cir. 1990)).

This action arises from the November 26, 2011 armed robbery of a Family Dollar Store located at 5330 Frankford Avenue in Baltimore, Maryland. Compl. ¶ 8, ECF No. 2. Plaintiff Gerald Rice claims that he was indicted for this crime in Maryland state court, but the state charges were ultimately dismissed. Id. ¶¶ 23-24. He alleges that Officer Ben and Detective Anderson deprived him of his rights under the Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments by using false testimony to secure his arrest and subsequent detention. Id. ¶¶ 1, 8-15.

Yet, Mr. Rice omits from his Complaint that he was also indicted in this Court with charges stemming from the same incident.[2] See United States v. Rice, Crim. A. No. CCB-12-412. On September 6, 2012, Mr. Rice accepted a plea bargain in which he admitted that he robbed the Family Dollar Store in question. Defs. Anderson and Ben’s Mot. to Dismiss Ex. A, 10, ECF No. 16-2 (Copy of Plea Agreement). Even further, he admitted that he “possessed and brandished a firearm in furtherance of the robbery of the Family Dollar Store . . . [.]” Id. Under the agreement, Plaintiff pleaded guilty to one count of Interference with Commerce by Robbery, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951, and one count of Possessing and Brandishing a Firearm in Furtherance of a Crime of Violence, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(ii). Id. at 1. This Court then sentenced him to the term stipulated by the plea agreement-a period of imprisonment of 180 months. See Defs. Anderson and Ben’s Mot. to Dismiss Ex. B, ECF No. 16-3 (Copy of the Judgment).

Plaintiff subsequently appealed his conviction to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, seeking to withdraw his guilty plea due to his “actual innocence.” Defs. Anderson and Ben’s Mot. to Dismiss Ex. C, 2-3, ECF No. 16-4 (United States v. Rice, 537 F. App’x 270, 271 (4th Cir. 2013) (per curiam)). The Fourth Circuit affirmed this Court’s judgment in part, and also dismissed the appeal in part. Id. On remand, Plaintiff moved to vacate his conviction and sentence, arguing that he was “actually innocent” of the crimes to which he pled guilty. Defs. Anderson and Ben’s Mot. to Dismiss Ex. D, ECF No. 16-5 (Copy of Rice’s Mot. to Vacate). This Court denied the Motion, remarking that Rice’s “actual innocence claims are directly contradictory to his sworn statements at his plea hearing where he admitted that he used a handgun.” Defs. Anderson and Ben’s Mot. to Dismiss Ex. E, 2, ECF No. 16-6 (Copy of Memorandum Opinion). This Court further explained that “by [Rice’s] accepting responsibility early, the government was willing to seek a sentence less than the guidelines range and the court accepted such a sentence.” Id. at 3. Plaintiff remains incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution, Schuylkill.

Mr. Rice filed the subject action in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, asserting violations of his Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights.[3] See Compl. ¶¶ 19-27. Defendants timely removed the case to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1441, and 1446. Notice of Removal, ECF No. 1. After Defendants filed their respective Motions to Dismiss (ECF Nos. 16, 19, & 22), Plaintiff filed a “Motion of Opposition, for Dismissal of Defendants’ Motion for Removal, and for Dismissal of Complaint” that appears to seek remand of this case to state court.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a complaint must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed. R. Civ. P 8(a)(2). Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure authorizes the dismissal of a complaint if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The purpose of Rule 12(b)(6) is “to test the sufficiency of a complaint and not to resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses.” Presley v. City of Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006).

The Supreme Court’s opinions in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), “require that complaints in civil actions be alleged with greater specificity than previously was required.” Walters v. McMahen, 684 F.3d 435, 439 (4th Cir. 2012) (citation omitted). In Twombly, the Supreme Court articulated “[t]wo working principles” that courts must employ when ruling on Rule 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. First, while a court must accept as true the factual allegations contained in the complaint, the court is not so constrained when the factual allegations are conclusory or devoid of any reference to actual events. United Black Firefighters v. Hirst, 604 F.2d 844, 847 (4th Cir. 1979). Moreover, a court need not accept any asserted legal conclusions drawn from the proffered facts. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. (stating that “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice” to plead a claim). In the context of pro se litigants, however, pleadings are “to be liberally construed, ” and are “held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (citation omitted); accord Brown v. N.C. Dept. of Corr., 612 F.3d 720, 724 (4th Cir. 2010).

Second, even a pro se complaint must be dismissed if it does not allege “a plausible claim for relief.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679; see also O’Neil v. Ponzi, 394 F. App’x. 795, 796 (2d Cir. 2010).Although a “plaintiff need not plead the evidentiary standard for proving” her claim, she may no longer rely on the mere possibility that she could later establish her claim. McCleary-Evans v. Maryland Department of Transportation, State Highway Administration, 780 F.3d 582, ...


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